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Letters to a Doubting Thomas 1: Theism and Naturalism


Page 12- (1) There is exactly one entity that is (2) perfectly morally good (3) almighty, and that (4) exists of necessity.

Morally good= wise, loving and just

Wise = God knows what’s important, how to achieve it

Loving = God cares about long term best interests of any person he creates

Just = must adhere to principles – not break promises, etc.

Almighty = maximum power within logic

Page 14- knowing all propositions that can be known avoids the contradiction with free will. (As we see later in the book, this is Layman’s answer to the contradiction between omniscience and free will).

Page 16- Naturalism= (1) There is a self organizing physical reality (2) physical reality exists necessarily, eternally, or by chance, (3) leaving aside special cases, all entities are physical ones

Page 17- Physical = made entirely of mechanistic entities – no free choice enters the system

Page 18- Are scientists always naturalists?

Many scientists are in fact Theists. . . One study I’ve seen states that, in 1996, about 42% of American biologists and 29% of American physicists believed that God exists. . . It is true, however, that science can increase the credibility of Naturalism.

Although Layman does make an attempt to balance the issue, I think a more balanced account would show how the most prestigious scientists are largely non-believers, and the stark contrast of believing scientists and the believing public.

Naturalism involves many claims that cannot be verified scientifically. For instance, no scientific experiment could possibly show that the inherent tendencies of physical entities are not put there by God.

Depends on exactly what you consider science. Science involves not just experimentation, but also the use of inductive reasoning and the ‘principle of simplicity’ to borrow Layman’s wording. These could be seen to be good evidence against certain slippery metaphysical propositions.

Page 29- Zach, the philosopher in the dialog, concedes that theism is more complex than naturalism, so it would depend on the background evidence to give theism more prior probability.

Page 36- Zach brings up his first line of evidence for Theism, the existence of religious experience. This will be addressed more closely in Chapter 2.

As of the end of this chapter, I was impressed by the clarity. I couldn’t find anything to disagree with, except maybe the framing of the science issue, but judging by the tone of the book, I would expect the author to fully concede that going into science may be predictive of being a non believer in God.

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